When traveling to Mexico, a country still struggling to contain violence by drug cartels, there are precautions you can take to ensure your well-being beyond packing high-SPF sunscreen. Top among them is to know where in the country to go and where to avoid, from entire regions to the back streets of some tourist towns.

The Yucatán is just fine, but beware Veracruz. No worries in the southern Baja California Peninsula, where Cabo San Luca draws tourists, but don’t venture to the north, where Tijuana is a hot potato. San Miguel de Allende raises no red flags, but travel to the state of Sinaloa does— except for Mazatlan’s Golden Zone and historic town center.

All that vital information comes from a reliable source — the U.S. Department of State, whose long-standing travel warning on Mexico should be required reading for anyone headed there. It’s important not just for its clear-eyed look at dangers, but also for its heartening side: It notes that “millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year.” Find it at www.travel.state.gov (click on “Warnings” and look for Mexico).

While the State Department issues warnings for countries with continuing safety concerns, it also has “country-specific information” for every nation in the world. It’s in that section that you’ll learn that street crime, from pick-pocketing to armed robbery, is a serious problem in most Mexican cities.

That’s the kind of heads-up you’ll want, no matter what country you visit this winter. Costa Rica, for instance, has its own problem with theft, plus both its Caribbean and Pacific coasts have swift and dangerous currents, but no lifeguards or warning signs to alert swimmers. Knowing that is worth a quick trip to the State Department website any day.


Send your questions or tips to travel editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@startribune.com.